The area where I live in the United States is serious hunting territory; when deer hunting season starts on Monday after Thanksgiving I don’t dare to go on a walk without wearing a bright neon-colored orange vest and beanie because there are hunters everywhere.
Yet I have not been able to get my hands on any game meat because nobody in my family hunts, and unlike in Germany, you cannot just go out and buy it. Selling game meat, unless it is farm-raised, is prohibited in Pennsylvania.
There is another significant difference between game in Germany and the United States – in the way the meat is prepared. When I was growing up, game was for special occasions, like a roast of boar for lunch at a countryside inn on an autumnal Sunday outing, or a larded saddle of venison for Christmas. And that’s the way it has always been for me. I could never quite get used to the idea of deer hamburgers, deer sausage, and deer jerky that our neighbors make.Game in Germany has become more widely available and cheaper. More than half of the game meat sold in Germany today is imported, from Poland, Slovenia and as far as Australia and New Zealand. It is often farm-raised, sold frozen, and mostly not comparable in quality to the fresh domestic game meat you can buy directly from a local hunter, at farmers’ markets or butcher shops.
There are strict regulations for hunting in Germany, and the hunter’s training to obtain a hunting license (Jagdschein) is not just about hunting but also about the proper processing of the meat. It is anything but easy: In Bavaria, 25 to 30 percent of the candidates fail the hunting exam, which is also called Grünes Abitur (green high-school diploma).
When hunting season started last year, and I again saw groups of hunters every time I left the house, I decided I did not want to spend another game-less autumn. So I asked our neighbor if, should he get lucky, he would give me a little bit of deer meat.
Weeks went by, nothing happened, and I already gave up on it. Then one evening Larry showed up unannounced with several pieces of meat, including a package of frozen “deer hamburger” that he had brought back from his hunting trip to Montana.
There was no way I was going to waste the ground deer meat on hamburgers. I concocted a recipe from different German recipes and made my very first Venison Pâté.
Venison Pâté (Wildpastete)
½ cup (3/8 ounce/12 g) dried morels
1 tablespoon butter
3 large shallots (100 g), finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 bay leaves, crumbled
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons dried thyme, crumbled
1 teaspoon dried marjoram, crumbled
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 pinch cayenne
1 pound + 14 ounces (850 g) ground frozen deer meat, almost thawed
4 ounces (115 g) pancetta, diced
10 ounces (300 g) high-quality hickory-smoked bacon, thinly sliced
scant ¼ cup (50 ml) heavy cream
2. Melt the butter in a skillet and cook the shallots until translucent. Add salt, pepper, bay leaves, and all the herbs and spices, and mix well. Set aside to cool.
3. Grind the deer meat and the pancetta in the food processor to the paste-like consistency. Drain the morels and chop them coarsely. Add the morels and the cooled shallot mix and process with pulse setting until well combined.
4. Grease a loaf pan. Neatly line the bottom with bacon slices and place bacon slices along all four sides so that half of their length is hanging over the edge.
5. Carefully add the meat and gently press it down to remove any air pockets. Place the overhanging bacon slices over the pâté and place a few bay leaves on top for garnish.
6. Stir the heavy cream and the brandy in a small bowl and pour it over the pâté. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil.
7. Bake in the preheated oven at 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) for 75 minutes, gently pushing the pâté down a few times during cooking to make sure everything is covered with liquid. This prevents the bacon slices on top from drying out and curling up.
8. Remove the pâté from the oven and let it cool on the counter for 1 hour, then refrigerate for at least 24 hours. Gently unmold it onto a platter and remove the hardened excess fat. Slice the pâté and let it come to room temperature to serve. Refrigerate the leftovers.
Makes 10 servings